Online Threat is an Abuse to the Freedom of Expression
Last week, Maneka Gandhi took a stand against online abuse, not only by identifying it as violence but also creating a new forum for grievance redressal. She asked victims of online abuse to tweet to her using the hashtag #IAmTrolledHelp, on Twitter, and also gave an email address, wherein victims could report online abuse. Gandhi’s initiative was in defense of the singer Sona Mohapatra who was abused on Twitter. On 21st June 2016, the singer expressed her dissent when certain section of society rallied around Salman Khan for defense against pre-empted reprimenda as the actor said he felt like a rape victim. Gandhi ensured that the Sona Mohapatra abusers were taken off Twitter and she instructed the National Commission of Women to create a human resource system for action against online abuse targeted at women. A swift and constructive response was given by the Delhi Commission of Women (DCW) on 9th July 2016 when it announced that a cyber-cell shall be set-up to conduct research on online abuse. The DCW cyber cell shall not only aid victims of online abuse but also study and perceive the content of abuse as insightful data to edit National policies and safeguard human rights.
Maneka Gandhi’s proposal to create a reporting forum for online abuse, brings to light the poor working mechanism of existing cybercrime cells across India. Most of the cells have lack of resource and infrastructure which implies that cybercrimes are not taken as seriously as they should be. In May 2016, Centre for Social Research (CSR) carried out a survey to explore usage of social media and perception towards it, especially with regards to online safety. Of the 563 respondents, 45 percent reported that they do not feel safe online. 75 percent reported that social media is unsafe for everyone who engages in it and 45 percent reported to have personally experienced online abuse at some point during their online interactions. Of the total respondents,82 percent were reported to be in the age group of 18-25 years. For me, the most vivid memory of online abuse was when the actor Shruti Seth was inhumanly trolled last year. It shook me up and I could put the pieces of several abuse puzzles together.
We at Centre for Social Research, initiated #SocialSurfing workshops across the country. With Facebook as a supporting partner and a reach to 36 Indian universities; #SocialSurfing aims at social media literacy and gender sensitization to make online experience not only safer but to create platform for exercising the Freedom of Expression, Article 19 to 22, bestowed upon us by the Indian Constitution. #SocialSurfing teaches the art of counter speech to the youth and how to optimize social media for social causes. Starting in August this year, #SocialSurfing 2.0 is not only gearing up for 70 colleges to create a bigger wave but is also in talks with the European Union on collaborations for online safety revolution. A famous George Washington quote, puts into perspective the need and importance of online safety which is integral to freedom of expression without fearing abuse, “If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
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